Dr. Hooke delivered a discourse before the Royal Society in 1684, showing how to communicate at great distances. In this discourse he asserts the possibility of conveying intelligence from one place to another at a distance of 120 miles as rapidly as a man can write what he would have sent. He takes to his aid the then recent invention of the telescope, and explains how characters exposed at one station on the top of one hill may be made visible to the next station on the top of the next hill. He invented twenty-four simple characters, each formed of a combination of three deal boards, each character representing a letter by the use of cords; these characters were pushed from behind a screen and exposed, and then withdrawn behind the screen again. It was not, however, until the French revolution that the telegraph was applied to practical purposes; but about the end of 1703 telegraphic communication was established between Paris and the frontiers, and shortly afterward telegraphs were introduced into England.
The history of the invention and introduction of the electric telegraph by Prof. Morse is one of inexhaustible interest, and every incident relating to it is worthy of preservation. The incidents described below will be found of special interest. The article is from the pen of the late Judge Neilson Poe, and was the last paper written by him. He prepared it during his recent illness, the letter embodied in it from Mr. Latrobe being of course obtained at the time of its date. It is as follows:
On the 5th of April, 1843, when the monthly meeting of the directors of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company was about to adjourn, the President, the Hon. Louis McLane, rose with a paper in his hand which he said he had almost overlooked, and which the Secretary would read. It proved to be an application from Prof. Morse for the privilege of laying the wires of his electric telegraph along the line of the railroad between Baltimore and Washington, and was accompanied by a communication from B.H. Latrobe, Esq., Chief Engineer, recommending the project as worthy of encouragement.
On motion of John Spear Nicholas, seconded by the Hon. John P. Kennedy, the following resolution was then considered:
Resolved, “That the President be authorized to afford Mr. Morse such facilities as may be requisite to give his invention a proper trial upon the Washington road, provided in his opinion and in that of the engineer it can be done without injury to the road and without embarrassment to the operations of the company, and provided Mr. Morse will concede to the company the use of the telegraph upon the road without expense, and reserving to the company the right of discontinuing the use if, upon experiment, it should prove in any manner injurious.”
“Whatever,” said Mr. McLane, “may be our individual opinions as to the feasibility of Mr. Morse’s invention, it seems to me that it is our duty to concede to him the privilege he asks, and to lend him all the aid in our power, especially as the resolution carefully protects the company against all present or future injury to its works, and secures us the right of requiring its removal at any time.”